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New star power for Hong Kong's democracy struggle

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Audrey Eu never imagined public life, let alone fame. But she's become something new in Hong Kong: A politician with star quality.

She's a lawyer - the former head of the Hong Kong Bar who believes deeply that Hong Kong will not get full democracy unless it fights harder. She's also got glam: more than six feet tall in a small-body society, charisma, and a top-shelf fashion sense. What's more, she's scandal-free in a pork-riddled system, and scores points as a devoted mother and wife.

Altogether, it's a package that makes Ms. Eu sought after like native-son film star Jackie Chan. When 300,000 people marched down Queen's Road last December for universal suffrage - "Audrey" was at the front, waving, and later mobbed by teens and dowagers alike.

As a main force and the main face behind the creation of the "Civic Party" this spring, Eu is emerging as a name in Asian politics.

She comes out of a grass-roots protest movement that rose in 2003 to demand self-rule and rights. Eu articulated why it made good business sense for Hong Kong to govern itself; indeed, she linked the idea to the survival of Hong Kong's special identity.

Now, a central question is whether that spirit can be translated into an effective political party. The Civics want genuine democracy, not the watered-down version where Beijing controls the levers of power. That puts party leader Eu and her compatriots at uneasy odds with Beijing, despite their moderate nature.

"We say very clearly that our aim eventually is to be the governing party," Eu says. "We feel we have to be honest about it, and logical about it.... If a party supports democracy and social justice ... the values we champion, eventually you have to work toward that goal and encourage that responsible position."

Yet current election rules frustrate that goal. The saying here is that Beijing doesn't want to fix Hong Kong's elections - but it does want to know the results ahead of time.


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